Ever since I first caught a few glimpses of ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson in his ‘indie’ days in Ring Of Honor I was intrigued by this mild-mannered seeming grappler from Aberdeen, Washington who came across as this generation’s ‘Man of a thousand holds’ but with the speed and athleticism of an HBK thrown into the mix as well.
So, when he appeared on the scene in WWE (after a bit of a misfire in the original version of NXT) I was excited to see if those glimpses could pay off in the longer term and in the so-called ‘land of the giants’ of pro-wrestling.
Well, the new Blu-ray/DVD collection from WWE demonstrates that, across his tenure with the company, the renamed Daniel Bryan certainly lived up to the hype. He took whatever was given to him and did it to the best of his ability so, whether it was the laughable angle with Kane in Team Hell No or the more serious feuds with John Cena and The Authority, Bryan was consistently worth watching in the ring.
This set then seeks to put that across over 8 hours of interviews and action. Initially I was skeptical as what appeared to be the ‘main feature’ documentary was barely an hour-long and glossed over a lot of Bryan’s history, though references to his days in Japan, England and Ring of Honor were nice to hear.
Largely though it focused on his path to WrestleMania 30 where he walked away with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, marking a high point for his 15 years in ‘the industry’. A lot of this was interesting and featured input from many superstars, most notably John Cena (who came across as a very nice guy and genuine Bryan fan) and Bryan’s wife, then fiancé, Brie Bella along with long time friends and rivals William Regal and Seth Rollins and Bryan himself.
Though brief, this section did offer some interesting insight into the life of a ‘main eventer’ as it followed Daniel and Brie to the various media appearance in the build up to WrestleMania.
This made me wonder how WWE expects its performers to deliver like they do in the ring and shows why so many wrestlers get burned out by the schedule (I may not be a fan of him in the ring but John Cena must be a superman to have been doing this for a decade).
The other aspect that made this a fun watch is something that spans the set, that being how it straddles ‘real life’ and so-called ‘Kayfabe’ (wrestling lore) to keep up aspects of Bryan’s character while still showing us something more of the real man than we see in the ring. That said this approach can work for Bryan who’s character has developed (like many of the best of them) as an extension of his real self – this approach would be unlikely to work for The Undertaker for example.
Ending with Bryan’s win at WrestleMania 30 and a title card explaining his subsequent injury the feature documentary portion of this collection is ok but nothing spectacular.
It is in the rest of the set that things really come into their own.
Across 14 matches spanning Bryan’s career from his first, un-televised, tryout match in February 2000 to his clash with Roman Reigns in the build up to WrestleMania 31 in 2015, we see the development of a superstar and pro-wrestler – and Bryan makes no bones about the fact that what he loves is pro-wrestling and I don’t think once utters the words ‘sports entertainment’.
Between the matches we get further insight from Bryan as to where they fit into both his real life and ‘sports entertainment’ life and every one demonstrates his ability in the ring excellently, even when in the ring with far less experienced and, dare I say it, less talented performers.
Highlights of this include the early tryout and ‘jobber’ matches for curiosity’s sake, a match with CM Punk that shows two former ROH legends performing on the world stage and of course Bryan’s triumph at WrestleMania 30.
However a couple of matches are real standouts. First is a ‘gauntlet’ match from Raw in 2013 that goes beyond the 30 minute mark and sees Bryan go up against Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro and Ryback. While the sections with Swagger and Ryback are some of the best of those two men, it is the middle portion with Cesaro that really stands out as the two wrestle like the WWE Universe rarely sees, especially on the weekly TV shows, and tell a hugely dramatic story packed with great moments.
Secondly is Bryan’s match against John Cena from SummerSlam 2013 that I didn’t remember as being a classic, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I think really could be described as such. Across a long match (for WWE) the two deliver everything that is the essence of pro-wrestling; drama, varied maneuvers, and a genuine sense of breaking down the boundaries of sports and entertainment.
Throughout it is hard to tell where the match might go and the crowd are invested throughout whichever side of the ‘Lets go Cena… Cena sucks’ divide they might fall, or whether they are out-and-out American Dragon fans. The conclusion makes for a genuinely triumphant moment that is astonishing to relive, despite what comes after.
Across the collection the ever-present WWE propaganda machine is, as always, in effect, but it seems less obtrusive here than in other sets, but, knowing where Daniel Bryan is now there is a bittersweet tone to the whole thing.
The collection ends with Bryan returning from a nine month absence due to a neck injury and sets up the beginning of another great run (something that seemed to be happening at WrestleMania 31 where he won the WWE Intercontinental Championship), but of course, we now know that injury has caused further complications, once again putting Bryan’s career and health in jeopardy.
Whether we see Bryan back in a WWE ring or not, and while his career hasn’t been as legendary as some, what Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes! shows is a man with a real passion and love for what he dedicated his life to and a man with an uncanny talent in the ring, showing that, even in the land of the giants, skill and in-ring, pro-wrestling, ability still has a place and can shine through.